Category: Archive

7 gun arrests in U.S., Ireland stings

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey and Andrew Bushe

U.S. federal authorities have arrested four Irish citizens and charged them with being part of a Florida arms-smuggling ring that conspired to mail illegal weapons to Ireland. Gardai also swooped on a house in Galway where they arrested one man and two women in connection with the Florida case. Six handguns and ammunition were also recovered from the Galway house.

The arrests came after British authorities at Birmingham airport discovered firearms in a package mailed from South Florida in early July. A total of eight packages containing weapons and ammunition were mailed from the U.S. to Ireland under false labels stating they contained toys, stereo equipment, baby clothes and cassette players, according to federal officials.

On Monday evening, agents from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Siobhan Browne of Cork, Anthony Smyth and Belfast native Conor Claxton in Deerfield Beach, Fla., according to the United States Attorney’s office in Miami.

The FBI also arrested a fourth suspect, Martin Mullan, in his vehicle in northeast Philadelphia. Mullan, also an Irish national, is expected to be transported to Miami, where he and the three other suspects will face charges of conspiracy, unlawful shipment of firearms through the U.S. mail and illegal exportation of weapons from the United States, an FBI spokeswoman said.

The three Florida defendants are expected to appear in Miami federal court on Thursday for formal arraignment. They are currently being held without bail in a federal prison.

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An FBI affidavit states that the suspects had bought the weapons for a cause they were "very devoted to." Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper, quoting a source close to the investigation, said that cause was the IRA. Federal officials, however, refused to comment on those charges. Investigators from Britain’s Scotland Yard had also been in Miami assisting with the investigation.

According to the FBI affidavit, the suspects purchased numerous weapons, magazines and ammunition in South Florida and mailed them with false or non-existent return addresses to Ireland.

In July, British authorities intercepted a package at West Midland’s Airport and discovered a .357 Magnum revolver inside. Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco tracked the weapon to a gun show dealer in Fort Lauderdale.

The arms dealer later identified Browne and Smyth from photographs and told investigators the couple had bought five handguns at the show. Browne had purchased weapons under different names using a false driver’s license as identification, prosecutors charge.

During conversations with the arms dealer, the affidavit states, Browne said she was interested in purchasing as many weapons as the dealer could supply.

Later the same dealer received a handwritten fax from Browne and Smyth laying out the types of weapons they were attempting to buy — "anything silenced, any small concealable .25 and up, and any full auto submachine guns, the smaller the better," the affidavit states. Browne and Smyth allegedly purchased 26 handguns and six shotguns from April 29 to May 6. The handguns were among those posted to Ireland in the eight packages.

Florida has been the center of an Irish arms dealing case before. In 1990, four Irish nationals were arrested and accused of attempting to purchase a heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile.

Federal officials charged that the men had been trying to buy the weapons for terrorist activities. One of the men was charged with paying an undercover agent $50,000 to purchase a shoulder-fired "stinger" missile used by U.S. troops as an anti-aircraft device.

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